You Have to Learn to Kill

In farming, as in filmmaking, you have to learn to kill things.

I sometimes start my day in the garden, particularly if I’m at a thorny place in a project. With my mug of French press coffee or a creamy homemade latte, I weed until it’s good and hot and I’m good and hungry. It’s a great time for thinking.

When I was a kid I hated weeding. My brothers and I had a parental imposed weekend quota of an hour of yardwork. It was hot and boring. I hadn’t created those spaces with my own hands so I felt no ownership. Now when I’m in the garden I’m admiring the growth of what I planted, or examining the stunted nature of what I sowed or transplanted. The space is mine to shape. And that’s all weeding is, shaping the space.

When I make a documentary film I start with a vision, an idea and a list of sources, some research and a story structure. And like the garden, the film shapes itself from there and I watch, but not helplessly. I am a partner in the process and a shaper of the result. I get to choose how to shape the creation of this space, always with my vision–the story–in mind. What is the message? What is the story I am trying to tell and the best, most direct, most powerful way to tell it?

One of last year’s garden beds went almost entirely to the beautiful and prolific calendula flower. I watched it happen because I wasn’t willing to kill this pretty flower. That was only a problem because the plan for this bed was tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. But the flower that I was unwilling to pull crowded them out, therefore creating a new plan entirely for that space. I didn’t shape the space of my vision, so the space shaped itself.

In the paths and wherever I want other plants to grow freely, the beautiful calendula flower is a weed and I must be willing to kill it in service of my vision for the garden. So it is with filmmaking: trashing that great interview bite you’re attached to, or that thing you’ve always wanted to prove, but in this space it will detract from the emotion and impact of the story. You have to be willing to kill it. Use it in the service of some other project if you must. Store it for a later date. Feed that flower to the goat and it will not be wasted. But take it out. Practice letting go.

When I wake up with ideas, I’m at the edit bay even before coffee calls, but if I’m in a stuck place the garden is the place to start. I keep the paths free of all plants, because all plants are weeds in that space and embrace weeding since every weed presents an opportunity to choose, to be the master of the space. Starting the day outside with the lessons of the garden is sometimes the only way to move forward.

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